Featuring:: Lake Bell, Simon Pegg, Rory Kinnear, Olivia Williams, Sharon Horgan, Harriet Walter, Ken Stott, Stephen Campbell Moore
Director: Ben Palmer
Writer: Tess Morris
Movie website: www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfilms/film/man_up
Australian release date: Thu 5 Nov
Verdict: An enjoyable and witty Brit romcom brought home by a scintillating lead double act
Combine a witty, well-written screenplay with a couple of high-energy lead performers who clearly thrive in their roles and spark off each other like live wires and you have a winner. A very English one, as it happens. The characters’ inflections and delivery are oh-so-contemporary Brit, as is the style of the humour. A Ricky Gervais (Office era) influence is detectable at times, although the film is formulaically romcom in shape – indeed, this adherence to traditional narrative form imposes some control over the chaotic elements of the characters and the alcohol-fuelled rollercoaster afternoon and evening they embark upon, and keeps the piece grounded.
Somewhat ironically, the show-stealer is an American, Lake Bell (her English accent is flawless), who plays Nancy, a jaded and cynical 34-year-old single who decides, uncharacteristically, to go with the flow when she is mistaken for the 24-year-old blind date of newly and painfully divorced 39-year-old Jack (Simon Pegg).
From amusingly awkward beginnings, they relax over some quiet afternoon drinks, gravitate to noisier tequila slammers as day turns to night, and move on to a bowling alley. They’re having a riotously good time together until the inevitable complication arrives in the person of Sean (played with sleazy relish by Rory Kinnear), a classmate of Nancy’s who has been carrying a torch for her since high school. With her fraudulent identity as Jack’s blind date in danger of exposure, things start to unravel.
They beat a retreat back to the tequila bar, where Jack runs into his ex-wife (Olivia Williams) and the bloke who cuckolded him (Stephen Campbell Moore). When they perversely decide to grab a table as a foursome, the comedy ratchets up a few notches as things get seriously out of whack.
There’s no getting off the slippery slope to dating disaster, and poor Nancy exits, cutting a lonesome figure as she makes her way into the night to attend the last stages of her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. It seems their happy fate is never to be hers…
Except that this is a romcom, and we all know that a happy ending is in store. The narrative gets a bit silly in the process of arriving at this final destination, but it’s all good fun and despite its predictability and sentiment quotient the resolution is moving (well, the two lead characters are endearing – come on!).
This is a thoroughly enjoyable flick with decent helpings of both rom and com, but it’s more than that. Lake Bell’s effervescent performance is one out of the box, and with Simon Pegg a worthy foil, they are a scintillating double act to catch. There are also some astute comments on the challenges, pitfalls and humour that is part and parcel of the contemporary dating game, key to which is discovering who you are and who you want to be with. And some wry nods to the irony of living in a time when we are more connected than ever before through electronic and social media, yet still isolated in the real world, where making a meaningful personal connection and finding a mate can seem like mission impossible.
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